I should write a book on discipline because the two I've been reading recently are very vague. Granted one of the books is not devoted to the subject while the other one is, but in my opinion they are teaching you how to discipline your child more in a negative sense. Meaning they try and teach you how to punish a child (or don't punish a child) but they give very little information on two things: positive reinforcement and what I call preventative discipline. Discipline means "to teach" it doesn't mean "to punish."
What is preventative discipline? Very simply it is a style of discipline that many parents already employ in some way or another without realizing it. The idea is that you avoid conflicts altogether. Yes, I know sounds a bit strange so let me give some situations so that you get a better idea of what I mean.
Preventative discipline with an infant who's mobile
If you know a child is mobile and they haven't the capacity to know when some things are okay to touch and others aren't, you try and "child proof" as much as you can. You install latches on cabinets that hold knives or cleaning supplies. You put up gates around stairs. You move breakable objects to higher locations. You remove or tack down cables or wires. Doing these simple acts causes you to avoid conflicts. You use the word "no" less often. This is one form of preventative discipline that many parents already use for safety reasons.
Preventative discipline with a toddler
At some point in a toddler's life they get frustrated. Some resort to tantrums; others bite. At the day care I worked at sharing with other children was a problem. This doesn't normally come up in households because the children are different ages, but if you do play dates often, you see it is quite common among children of the same age group. The easiest way to use preventative discipline is have multiple copies of the same toy readily available. I bought three toy trucks, two electronic keyboard things, and two speak n' says (the kids didn't like them but that's another blog). If one child got upset that someone else had a toy truck, I would simply go and get the other copy. Melt downs and biting didn't occur. This doesn't work very well for older children who want all of the copies, but for two year olds, it's great. They only need one because that is all they can focus on.
Preventative discipline with three year old
I had a child at a pre-school that I worked at who loved playing outside. But the state regulations are such that children can only stay outside for 30 minute intervals (which is funny because you could literally go out and then come in for five minutes and go back out because they don't tell you how often you can go out but I digress). Every time we would go outside, I would have to chase him around until he would eventually come inside. Time outs did not work (see negative discipline isn't great). So I thought of other ways I could get him inside. Part of going outside requires that you keep a list of kids with you. I also brought out tissues for runny noses and the first aid kit just in case. I decided that instead of me carrying all this stuff, he could carry the list. I called it "his job." It was his job to carry it out and carry back inside and if he didn't line up when it was time to go inside, then the job would go to someone else. I, of course, gave them a five minute warning (another part of preventative discipline) so that everyone knew when it was getting close. Once I said to line up if he didn't start heading to line up I would again warn him that someone else was going to get his job. He enjoyed being in charge so much (he was the youngest) and being a big helper that that was more important to him then staying outside. It worked like a charm. No more running after him. No more time outs. And no more stern discussions. He either got to perform his job or someone else got it. You could say that it was negative discipline if he lost it, but really he didn't need to carry the list, I just gave him the job of doing so.
Preventative discipline and elementary age children
The easiest way to avoid a tug of war over stuff is giving children only a few choices. You can wear this outfit or this outfit to school in the morning (picking it out the night before also prevents trying to get a sleepy child to decide). You can have an apple or an orange with lunch today. When we get to the toy store, you may only pick out one toy. Then at the store, you can pick from these three. You can give more choices to an older elementary child than a younger one. If you give a younger one more choices they have more trouble deciding and this turns into a melt down.
You can also use this technique to prevent issues in certain situations. Saying If you argue in the car, then we will not go to the toy store. will make an older child think twice before arguing especially if you have follow through. There is no point in warning a child if you later reneg on what you said. Also don't make crazy threats (something to this day my mom still does to me and I totally ignore it). Don't say if you misbehave I'm not going to feed you dinner. That's ridiculous because every child needs to eat.
Preventative discipline with a teenager
This involves more research on the parents' part. Get to know where your child is going and who is taking them. Get to know the parents of the friends of your child. If there is a sleep over, is both sexes or just one. You don't have to resort to spying and reading their e-mail, but putting the computer in the family room and setting a time limit will help. Many electronic devices already have preventative discipline measures in place so that children can't surf certain sites or watch certain programs. With teenagers you have to have a certain measure of trust, but that doesn't mean you hand over power. Talk to them about why you think going to a sleep over with both sexes there isn't a good idea. Perhaps you can suggest as an alternative holding a slumber party at your own home on another weekend. Or maybe you are concerned about the driving skills of one your child's friends. Offer to drive them and drop them off or say as long as it is only two or three people in the car, I would feel more comfortable.
Preventative discipline is about preventing using negative punishments. It's not about using positive discipline (which is another blog). They are simple techniques that parents already use but a lot of discipline books fail to label or give good examples for real scenarios. Nor do books help you figure out ways to resolve reoccuring conflicts which could mean having a child decide themselves how to work out a problem. I think most discipline books are worried about teaching parents not to use corporal punishment and to try to be loving. Preventative discipline doesn't focus on that. It focuses on age appropriate techniques to prevent conflict.